Melbourne’s Royal Park is the city’s largest inner-city park, covering 170 hectares, and is of state significance due to its size and Australian native landscape.
Inspired by the seven seasons that local Wurundjeri people divide the year into, the new park brings landscape back into playtime.
The City of Melbourne consulted more than 660 community members and 150 children on the design of the new playspace, with nature-based play identified early as something that the community wanted to see included in the design.
After the old Royal Children’s Hospital building was demolished, the City of Melbourne design team had to quickly develop a grading plan so the building spoil could be distributed on site. Some of this forms a giant mound of earth covered in lush green turf – the most prominent feature of the project – offering long views to the grassland circle to the north, and back across the city skyline to the south.
Natural materials have been used wherever possible in the design of the playspace.
“When we engaged with children on the park design, climbing trees and water play were popular among all ages,” explains councilor Arron Wood, Chair of the City of Melbourne’s Environment portfolio.
However, what sets the Return to Royal Park playspace apart is its open connection to surrounding parkland. “We wanted play to be intrinsically connected with the landscape, not be seen as a bounded space, or to feel or look like a conventional playground,” explains Skye Haldane, principal landscape architect at the City of Melbourne.
On a more intimate level, gullies provide a sense of enclosure and house climbing-courses made from undyed rope, logs and giant stone boulders. According to Haldane, “the gully spaces are set up against the existing woodland to embed these within the vegetation fabric, and to encourage play activity to extend into the unstructured spaces of the park.”
Central to the playspace is a controllable watercourse, where children can dam the creek and release a flood on their friends downstream.
Leading up from here, the ground is densely planted in tussocks and ground covers. Three slides of varying heights propel children down the slope, who then clamber back up the stepped stone embankment to re-join the queues, providing graduated challenges for all ages.
With so many kids racing around the place it’s amazing to see how little damage has been done to the garden beds thus far. The new parkland includes more than 1100 trees and 17,500 other plants and grasses, of which over 80 percent are indigenous to Melbourne, and all are native to Australia. The planting selection is shaped by the seven seasons that Wurundjeri people divide the year into, creating a connection between the local seasons and play.
The water play elements are associated with the “dry season”, while a diminishing sequence of metal hoops is an interpretation of an eel trap.
“Each area includes species that are important to that season, for example the silver wattle blooms in August and marks the transition from ‘wombat season’ (winter) to ‘orchid season’ – the start of spring,” explains Haldane.
The planting is an important component of the park’s goal to build the empathy that children have for nature, and to allow them glimpses for discovery and understanding of Melbourne’s indigenous landscape.